All blogs are property of authors and copying is not permitted.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Greatest Love Stories Ever Told: Marie and Pierre Curi

Marie and Pierre Curie are best known for their scientific discoveries, but their personal story is considered one of the great love stories of contemporary times.
As I've mentioned before, contemporary love stories are more difficult to present because they're well recorded, sometimes by people who knew the players intimately, and tend to lack the same fantasy and shine of myths and ancient legends. In this story, I found it impossible to separate the love story from the science which brought these two together.
Marie Salomea Sklodowska.(Curie) was born in Warsaw on November 7, 1867, which, at the time, was within the Kingdom of Poland, a part of the Russian Empire. It's said she spent her younger years as an impoverished teacher and governess. Still, she managed to study at the Warsaw's clandestine Flying University, where she began her scientific training.
To understand her determination, you need to understand the educational system at the time. In Poland, under Russian control, only state-sanctioned curriculum could be taught, and that curriculum focused on stamping out Polish culture. In addition, women were not allowed to attend the universities at all [which was not uncommon throughout Europe]. So attaining an education in science took a great deal of commitment on Marie's part.
The Flying University started in Warsaw in 1882. Secret classes for women were held in private homes and taught by rebellious Polish professors and historians. Since these classes were illegal, they frequently changed the location from one home to another. Thus, it became known, among those who knew about it at all, as the Flying (or Floating) University. [For more information, go to:]
In 1891. when Marie was 24, she joined her sister Bronia in Paris to study mathematics and physics at the Sorbonne, and earned advanced degrees with top honors in both subjects by 1894. That same year, as she was in process to deciding her doctoral thesis, she was introduced to Pierre Curie by Polish Physicist, Jozef Wierusz-Kowalsku, who knew Marie was looking for a larger laboratory space.
Personality wise, those who knew Marie claim she was an elemental force of nature, and sometime referred to as Pierre's greatest discovery.
Pierre Curie was born in Paris May 15, 1859, and had earned advanced degrees by the time he was eighteen. When he was introduced to Marie, he was an instructor at the School of Physics and Chemistry in Paris. Marie was looking for laboratory space to begin a project. He found space for Marie by taking her on as a student.                 

Pierre was in his mid-thirties when he met Marie, and had been despairing of ever finding a suitably intelligent companion in life. Marie changed everything.

CHEMISTRY [And not the scientific kind]
Although the chemistry between Marie and Pierre may not have been love at first sight, as time progressed and they worked together, their mutual passion for science created a bond between them. They were not only kindred spirits, but they matched each other's intellect. At first, they saw each other to discuss projects; then it was because they couldn't bear to be apart.
When Pierre proposed marriage to her, Marie didn't accept because she wanted to return to Poland. Pierre countered and said he would move with her to Poland "even if it meant being reduced to teaching French."
Marie did return to Poland [alone] for summer break. She believed she would be able to work in her field at Krakow University, but was turned down because she was a woman. She returned to Paris and married Pierre on July 26, 1895 in a non-religious ceremony. Marie wore a dark blue outfit instead of a bridal gown, and later used that same outfit to work in her laboratory.
With common interests in science and intellectual parity, they both enjoyed long bicycle trips and traveling abroad. It was a happy marriage.

They had two daughters, Irene (1897) and Eve (1904). Their work continued and, in 1903, Pierre and Marie Curie and Henri Bacquerel won the Nobel Prize for Physics for the joint discovery of radioactivity. She was the first woman to ever win the Nobel Prize. Later she won a second Nobel for the discovery of two elements, radium and polonium. This relieved the family from the financial hardship they lived with.
Her daughter, Irene and her husband, Frederic Joloit-Curie, shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935. Irene was the second woman to win a Nobel Prize.
Eve, on the other hand, became an American citizen. She is the only one in the family who didn't go into the sciences, but became a journalist and played concert piano professionally. She became well known for the biography she wrote about her mother.   
TRAGEDY STRIKESAll great love stories seem to involve a tragedy at some point. But then, so does life.
Marie and Pierre's love story ended in April 1906, when Pierre was stuck by a horse-drawn vehicle and fell under its wheels. One of the wheels rolled over his head, causing his skull to fracture and killing him instantly. Marie was devastated by his death and refused the pension the French government offered her.
A month later, the Physics department of the University of Paris decided to offer to Marie the Department Chair, which had been created for Pierre. She accepted and was the first women to become a professor at the University of Paris.            

Four years after Pierre's death, Marie, now 43, became involved with friend Paul Langevin, a married scientist with four children. They rented an apartment where they could meet secretly. Still, rumors circulated. Langevin had been a student of Pierre's and was five years younger than Marie.
Langevin's wife knew he was a womanizer. Apparently his marriage was not a happy one and, it was rumored she had once hit him over the head with a bottle. For some reason, she was infuriated about Marie. She discovered their hideaway, had someone break in and steal Marie's love letters, which Madam Langevin then threatened to expose to the press if her husband didn't break off the affair.                                                                 Paul Lagevin 
Whether or not the affair continued, the wife leaked the letters to the press three days before Marie won her second Nobel Prize, and declared she wanted Langevin's children and his money.
The press jumped on the story, painting Marie as a seductress and saying the affair started before Pierre died, which wasn't true at all. Nonetheless, her name was denigrated, and the Nobel Committee asked her to stay in France and not come to Sweden for the ceremony. She countered with a statement that discovering two elements had nothing to do with her personal life, and she went anyway.
Two duels resulted from the public brouhaha. One was fought between by editors of rival newspapers, over the merits of Madam Langevin's charges. They fought with swords, and when one was injured, they called it off and reconciled.
The second duel was between Langevin himself and a journalist who had called him a "boor and coward." Langevin challenged and insisted on pistols, but it came to naught and there was no blood shed.
Still the damage was done to Marie's reputation, and the French held her in contempt until WWI when she dedicated her work to develop x-rays for medical purposes and contributed a great deal to the war effort.

Marie and Pierre are a couple to be admired. According to  "They were two geniuses destined for each other. The Curies enabled one another to achieve greatness. They were totally dedicated to their work. They lived with very little and that did them just fine. Their love had a life of its own that gave so much to others. They took nothing for themselves and gave the world its first cancer treatment, its first ex-ray units, and three Nobel Prizes.
In the end, Marie's dedication to work cost her her life. She died of leukemia in 1934, at the age of 67, from the prolonged exposure to radiation.

Travel to Foreign Lands for Romance and Intrigue with a Novel by
Facebook  Twitter  GooglePlus  Website  AmazonLink
▪The Last Weekend In October
▪All For A Dead Man's Leg -
Book 1 – Tour Director Extraordinaire Series
▪All For A Fistful Of Ashes - Book 2 – Tour Director Extraordinaire Series
▪Destruction Of The Great Wall - Book 3 – Tour Director Extraordinaire Series – Release January 2018
Amazon   BookDepository   KoboBooks





jean hart stewart said...

What a wonderful column... I loved every word of it. I thought I knew a lot about the Curies, since I married a physicist. But I learned a lot more. Thanks, Ann....

Melissa Keir said...

What a fascinating story. I knew her as a strong woman and scientist but never had I learned about her life.

Share buttons